It was a disturbing television moment. There she was, sitting in her media court, turned into a celebrant judge in front of the jury selected and convened by herself. Oprah Winfrey, the most glittering star of American television, on the CBS “Sunday Morning” show, with an audience of millions in front of her, the organizers of the movement Time´s Up (time is up for the male sex offenders, it is understood): the producer Kathleen Kennedy and the actresses Natalie Portman and Reese Witherspoon among others, all of them powerful figures in Hollywood.
The previous week, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, had asked via Twitter during the Golden Globes Awards, when Woody Allen’s time would be up. She was referring to the accusation of his having sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old. Then, an investigation did not find enough evidence to bring the filmmaker to trial. Years later, in 2014, as an adult, Dylan repeated the charges against him in The New York Times, unleashing a new media storm. The director, again, denied the facts with a story in the same paper that seemed detailed and coherent to me. And that was all. Until the #MeToo movement burst like a hurricane last fall and changed everything under the premise that “all women need to be believed,” always.
Did Dylan provide details or new elements to give more weight to her denunciation? Yes, there was a graphic description of fondling and postures, with the added impact of offering her story for TV, which reinforces her credibility. Had any new supporting evidence come up to reopen the case? No. Moreover, there are no other accusations against Allen, neither before nor after, of sexual abuse, in a lengthy career of five decades. But lo and behold, Winfrey asks her “jury” of powerful Hollywoodians: What would you like to tell Dylan? Is time up for Woody Allen?” One after another, they answered that they hoped so, of course it was, that it was over. That was on television. On Twitter, half a dozen actresses and actors who had worked with him − including those in his latest film “A Rainy Day in New York,” an upcoming release – have repudiated him publicly and promised not to work with him ever again.
But that is not all. The attack against citizen Allen for his alleged sexual crime also applies to all of his work. On Jan. 4, The Washington Post published a report by a journalist who, after reading 56 boxes of the private archives Allen deposited in the Princeton University Library, concluded, “He’s obsessed with teenage girls.” For the author Richard Morgan, the prolific work (48 films) of a filmmaker who has received 23 Oscar nominations and has won four of them (in addition to providing three actresses with the opportunity to win an Oscar), and who has millions of followers around the world, is a “misogynist” from beginning to end, and could be summarized with the headline of a single and repeated film: woman turned into an object by a man. Morgan concludes − after remembering that in the fictional movie “Manhattan” (1979), the actor Allen, who was then 43 years old, makes out with Mariel Hemingway, age 16 − that the director´s work “is dressing up crime as art.” And Morgan regrets that “in this #MeToo era, a hackneyed moral argument has calcified for loving the art while hating the artist,” that would exonerate the former.
What to say? First, that the obsession of mature old men for young teenagers is an extended and known feature from the biblical Susanna and the elders (Daniel 14), to our Camilo José Cela (“Eroticism is a naked 18-year-old girl on the kitchen table”), running through the old Goethe (who was 72) infatuated with the young Ulrike von Levetzow (who was 17). Second, Allen has never hidden his predilection for very young women. He made out as a 50-year-old with the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, Soon-Yi Previn when she was 20 years old (and probably before that) and then he married her.
Third, we all have a dark side that is more or less hidden or repressed (most of the times a hidden sexual side, as Sigmund Freud revealed to us). Whoever is without sin, cast the first stone. What morally counts are not the recurring obsessions or the dark rooms that you have in your subconscious, but what you do with them consciously in your world. Some artists bring them into the open and make them their working material. As Walter Benjamin pointed out: “[A]t the base of every major work of art is a pile of barbarism.” If the #MeToo movement, whose role is irreplaceable, follows this drift of delirious intolerance in the artistic field, we will enter into an inquisitorial and puritan night in which all cats (sexual) will become gray (morally condemnable or potentially criminal).
How to describe all of this? Before defining the nature of this peculiar process, let us evaluate the penalties already imposed: undoubtedly, economic for the films and the filmmaker´s future career, which will be ruined; unquestionably, devastating to his honor, perception and reputation; almost certainly, his social death − friends and relations will ostracize him (even in Oviedo they are considering what to do with his statue and his Príncipe de Asturias Prize!) − and, artistically, 50 years of cinematographic work stained with a single disqualifying brush.
Remember that we are not facing a gray area accusation − ”harassment,” “misconduct” or “abuse of power”− that is credible because there are several witnesses in agreement, and the deserved punishment for which is, must be, public shame and the resignation or the loss of a professional position, but nothing more (and nothing less). Child sexual abuse is a grave crime punishable by years of imprisonment. But there they were, the great Oprah and her “jury” stating that they hope Allen´s time is up. They do not say openly that he is guilty of sexual assault against a minor (they cannot without risking a defamation lawsuit). But it is not necessary. That is, indeed, what they are doing.
We are facing the media equivalent of the guillotine, to the delight of the tricoteuses* of the French Revolution. There are no heads falling, but a person is being morally destroyed, and his social, public and professional life is being guillotined with one difference: then a “revolutionary tribunal” pretended to conduct a summary trial − accusations, evidence, witnesses and verdict − whereas today, the high priestess of Time´s Up and the unleashed crowd in social networks dictate a sentence and execute it ipso facto, without any process.
I confess I have no idea if Dylan Farrow is telling the truth or if Allen is innocent. But that is not the point. There was a thorough investigation at the time (1992) that found no evidence on which to judge the filmmaker guilty. Today, when the only new evidence that we have is the word, that is as much as saying the unfathomable heart and memory of the main characters, the evangelical “do not judge, and you will not be judged” is the only decent attitude to begin with. Now, after her famous speech at the Golden Globes, which has made her the captain general of the movement against the Weinsteins of this world (“brutally powerful men”) and even a potential candidate for the White House, “compromising” pictures have emerged in which Oprah appears in affectionate fellowship with the monster.
We can ask ourselves: What did Oprah know, and when did she know it? Is it not the mantra of the #MeToo movement and Time´s Up that everyone − in Hollywood and in the environment in which Weinstein operated − knew it and everyone kept quiet? Do we have the right to judge her for those pictures? Should we not ask ourselves: Is the time up for Oprah? Of course not! But first it is necessary to make clear that the shameful media trial orchestrated by her for her audience of millions, by making a statement about a much graver crime than complicit silence, is repugnant to a sense of justice, due process and the presumption of innocence.
Therefore, I can only say to the great director, whose work I adore, but putting his artistic merits completely aside, which are not relevant: Until there is no evidence to the contrary, I do believe you, Woody.
*Editor’s note: The “tricoteuses” were women who sat and knitted while attending public executions during the French Revolution.